Controversy-hit yoga system sets up NZ base

The Northern Advocate, New Zealand/January 28, 2017

By Lincoln Tan

Ayoga movement which has been mired in controversy overseas has set up base in New Zealand, creating an "Earth Village" in Northland.

Dahn Yoga, also known as Body & Brain, combines yoga, tai chi, meditation and self healing and promises members the transformative power of energy.

But its techniques have come under fire and led to two law suits in the US that were later dismissed by the courts.

The movement is founded by Ilchi Lee, described as "a global educator, mentor and innovator devoted to teaching energy principles and developing the full capability of the human brain."

According to Lee's website, the Korean-born "grandmaster" visited New Zealand in 2014 and was "amazed by the purity ... and the peacefulness".

Lee had decided to make an area near Kerikeri the site of his Earth Village and had also purchased property to build a retreat centre.

The website also claimed Lee has been running meditation retreats and that he had set up Dahn Taekwondo - a brain education version of the martial art - at an unnamed local school.

Body & Brain operates a yoga studio in Paul Matthews Rd in Albany, Auckland, and has more than 200 practitioners.

Training includes brain wave vibration, a form of moving meditation or head shaking, and brain education.

Professor Peter Lineham, a Massey University religious historian, described the movement as a "curious combination of religious zeal and bodily practices".

"I am most puzzled about its use of the term 'yoga'. In certain respects it is not yoga at all in the sense that it has any links with South Asian practices."

In 2010, CNN broadcast a report with interviews of former Dahn yoga members alleging severe physical, mental and financial abuse by the organisation's personnel and staff.

The Arizona District Court in the United States dismissed the allegations in August that year.

That came after an earlier lawsuit, which levelled allegations of "breaking wage and immigration laws, evading taxes and sexually abusing female disciples". That case was dismissed in 2008.

A former practitioner, who spoke to the Weekend Herald on the condition of anonymity, said she left after a short stint because she felt "something wasn't right".

"I've been involved with all sorts of yoga, and this surely didn't feel like yoga," she said.

"I questioned the trainers, but I was instead asked to sign up and pay for private sessions to understand the philosophies better."

But another practitioner, Regan Harvey, said he had felt "fitter and healthier" after just a few months and plans to continue the practice.

Dahn Yoga changed its name to Body & Brain in late 2005.

A Body & Brain spokeswoman said she was aware that "detractors" had labelled the organisation a cult.

"It's totally understandable that people should be suspicious of something they don't understand and it's easy to fall into the trap of labelling it as a cult," she said.

"The fact is, it's not a cult and the organisation has very few of the typical characteristics of a cult." The spokeswoman said practitioners come from diverse backgrounds.

Dahn yoga has been the subject of critical reports overseas, including by Forbes and Rolling Stone magazines.

The New Zealand spokeswoman said overseas media reports were based on "frivolous claims" of disgruntled former employees and their attorney, as were the lawsuits.

"Our business activities are not only legal, but there is also considerable scientific and anecdotal support for the effectiveness of our yoga," she added.

Jane Lowe, from Yoga Connection, said she was aware of Dahn Yoga but that it was not included in national studio listings.

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